Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Neo-Futurism at Danish Royal Opera

Johan Reuter, Sine Bundgaard, and Johnny van Hal after la prima of Lulu at DKT, October 15, 2010

My first opera-trip to Copenhagen was actually in 2009 when I went to see their new production of Tristan og Isolde in which Stig Andersen directed a show depicting what happens backstage when the passionate wagnerian singers prepare to sing Tristan. The idea was maybe not original but I liked it even if the show was a bit too sluggish for my taste. That was my first encounter with their new stunningly beautiful Opera House.

They also have an old opera house (which is cca 10 mins walk from the new one) where they perform the baroque repertoire in addition to Mozart and Rossini. Last year I saw there Tyrken i Italien directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier [that's a perfect example how to stage Rossini's opera to look funny instead of ridiculous!]

Old DKT Opera House

A street/canal that leads from there to the new opera house (Nyhavn) is a very pretty pedestrian area full of restaurants... 

and when you reach the end of that street you should take a boat to get to the new opera house. Here is how it looks from the boat: it's like an ellipsoid stuck in a larhe marble/concrete block, and with a flat massive roof on the top.

When you get closer you see that the ellipsoid is a steal and glass structure which must be hard to clean -- but is impeccably clean.

OK, on the way back it was already late and this is how it looks from the boat at night:

Inside the Royal Opera logo is a crown which you see everywhere

Once you're inside the steal/glass structure, you discern the marble floors and staircases from the wooden ellipsoid which is the houses grand auditorium.

The only ugly thing in this otherwise 21st century looking venue are these 3 shiny balls suspended on the first floor.  They're actually made of plastic and with small led-diodes inside, to impress the folks craving for some kitsch.

Other than that it is more than impressive how beautiful and practical have met one another in this building. From every floor you have corridors that lead you to auditorium

This angle is maybe even more impressive:

Then you enter the auditorium (the shiny wooden ellipsoidal structure above) and you're even more impressed. You could tell the opera lovers had their say before the house was built. The seats are perfectly positioned so that everyone can see what happens. It's perfectly comfortable and spacious.

Notice the luminous sign on the floor so you can easily find your seat...

The acoustics is obviously carefully studied and even the patterns you can see on wooden walls seem to be shaped as to minimize reflection of the sound off the walls.

Once they open the auditorium you can enter it from the sides but also there is a large opening on the back, which looks impressive:

and this is this same opening from the outside:

I went to the 1st floor to take a photo and the stage looks wonderful from above. the pit is not deep (it's one of the least deep pits I've ever seen actually)

This is the end of Lulu:

Now something you cannot imagine anywhere else but in Scandinavia: people leave their coats outside auditorium unattended (!!!) Would you believe this?

Last year at the bar the wine they'd sold was much better than this year. Everything is of course as expensive as at the Paris Opera, except that the program is much cheaper than in Paris [even if it contains much more information about the production you're about to see]

Ah yes, one more pleasant surprise came during the first intermission of Lulu: Campari --a sponsor!-- offered a free glass of Campari to every spectator!

When the Obamas recently visited Copenhagen they were taken to this building. Once you visit the place you understand why. No one remains unimpressed. Makes you feel spending an evening in the 22nd century or so...
OK, I should stop because I risk to have praised the place too much. I hope this only extra-tickles your curiosity and you decide to visit this awesome Opera House.

What is extra-impressive is the content of their artistic program. It's due to their excellent crew on one hand, and to their artistic director, Kasper Bech Holten on the other -- whose Copenhagen Ring is to me still by far the best Ring des Nibelungen available on DVD.
Next year Kasper will step down and the new artistic director will be Keith Warner, who is particularly known for his introspective Ring at Covent Garden, and who is currently preparing a new production of Simon Boccanegra at Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg. Kasper will finish his term by directing a new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten in Copenhagen [run in May & June 2011] -- good time to recommend a trip to Copenhagen.

Copenhagen  IS expensive but it is much less insanely expensive than it used to be (Norway is still insane in that respect, but Denmark and Sweden are just expensive! You can of course find reasonably priced hotels/restaurants if you're patient enough to look.)  Danes are fun and VERY kind people. This is especially manifest in situations that might turn unpleasant, when they find a way to laugh it all up. So in spite of all that tidiness and "perfection" around them, they are still simple and friendly.

I didn't take any pic of their cakes because I thought they weren't good in general: plenty of heavy-buttery cream.
Perhaps more than in Germany or Austria they eat sausages EVERYWHERE. My speechless moment occurred when I saw a danish equivallent to Baconnaise: long sausages enrobed in bacon :)

OK, to close this post I come back to my main reason for this trip: Herheim's Lulu. In the program there are many pics taken during the rehearsals, so here is a small bunch to share:


  1. Incredibly jealous of you! ^^ Thanks for the fascinating report. How many seats are there in this new opera house?

  2. Don't be! ;)

    Wiki says there're between 1492 and 1703 seats, depending on the size of the orchestra. Auditorium is large but it's built in such a way that everyone can see well and be comfortably seated. The space between the rows is large everywhere.

    For comparison, TCE in Paris is much smaller a theater but its capacity [1920 seats] is larger than that of the Danish Royal Opera, but there you're only comfortably seated in the first and maybe second category. Higher category seats are designed for Hobbits or for crazy opera fans who don't mind suffering for beauty :)